Spending review: Investing in museums makes economic sense

George Osborne announced today that museums are to receive 5% cuts in 2015/16, however Art Fund director Stephen Deuchar argues investing in museums is essential to economic growth.

As Chancellor George Osborne announced the spending review today, news is in that the Department of Culture, Media and Sport is set to receive a cut of 7% to its overall budget in 2015/16 and national museums are confirmed to receive 5% in addition to the 24.3% real term cut already received since 2010. For the nationals, it certainly could have been worse. But we have deep concern for the museums whose funders include Arts Council England and local authorities, which have been dealt further cuts of 5% and 10% respectively. Some local authorities (for example Westminster in London and Moray in Aberdeenshire) have already planned for 100% cuts to their arts budgets – the obliteration option. That could mark the start of a depressing unravelling of all the good that public and Lottery investment has had on UK museums over the past 20 years.

Museums are a UK success story. Half the population visit them annually – they’re even more popular than football matches. Museums contribute hugely to jobs and the visitor economy, as well as providing education and pleasure: 8 of the top 10 visitor attractions are museums; 40% of foreign visitors cite culture as the most important reason for visiting the UK. In fact for every £1 invested in the arts, we get £4 back. But we are now rounding a corner and entering a very different kind of landscape.

The impact of existing cuts has yet to be fully felt in most parts of the country, and though we are already braced for pain the latest cuts will lead to new kinds of hardship - some business models will need to change completely, front line services will be re-profiled and, with the fixed costs of collections care, public programmes including exhibitions will be disproportionately affected. This in turn will inevitably compromise museums’ ability to contribute economic growth through tourism, employment, and supporting the wider creative industries.

We urge local authorities to understand and appreciate the economic, educational and social importance of culture within the whole community. They should take the lead of councillors in Walthamstow and Wakefield: both places have investing in creating award-winning museums that inspire generations of residents and visitors, and put themselves firmly on the global cultural map. The William Morris Gallery and The Hepworth Wakefield – recent winners of the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year and the Clore Award for Learning – shine as beacons of light, a sign that despite the economic downturn, the local authorities care about their people and want to provide life-enriching experiences, day in, day out.

What do you think of the cuts? Do you have concerns for your local museum?

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